September 20, 2011



Where men pimp for their daughters, sisters

Every evening, the roads along Bharatpur district in Rajasthan are lit by lanterns and flashlights held by sex workers trying to attract customers. The girls are accompanied by their brothers or fathers who haggle with truck drivers to fix a price for the sex workers, who are often between 13 and 15 years.

While many of us may recoil in disgust at the practice of family members pimping their underage relatives, the initiation of adolescent girls in the flesh trade by their own kin is an accepted norm in Bharatpur. Here, women are expected to sell their bodies to support their families in which the men have no other work but to find customers for their sisters and daughters.

The custom is now the subject of a documentary Trapped by Tradition, which is made by American television news channel CNN International. The 30-minute film follows actor-producer Anil Kapoor to a village in Bharatpur, where he examines how poverty, illiteracy and social pressures have contributed to the tradition of trafficking female children.

As the women share ghastly tales of exploitation and helplessness, Kapoor also lends a ear to the male members to understand why sexual exploitation of minor girls is sanctioned by society. “In today’s modern world, this practice is unacceptable.
We should do whatever we can to eradicate it completely,” said Kapoor, who has been involved in campaigns against human trafficking for the past several years with Plan India, an organisation working to protect children against abuse and exploitation.

“It was clear that we must change the mindset of the people. They had to understand there are other options,” he added. Kapoor has now noticed a growing awareness in the community, something that was missing two years ago when he last visited Bharatpur. A little girl told him she wants to study and become an actress. Kapoor believes that through education people will learn about lifestyle choices outside Bharatpur and India’s sex trade.

The documentary will be premiered on CNN International on September 24.

September 11, 2011


Hindustan Times

Sexual harassment to be a non-bailable offence

Acting on the recommendations of one-man justice CS Dharmadhikari committee, the state government will soon make sexual harassment a non-bailable offence. Other recommendations made by justice Dharmadhikari include setting up of a separate space for such victims in the police station, increasing police vigilance in vulnerable areas, and separate fast-track courts for trying such cases.

To make it a non-bailable offence, the state will have to make amendments in the section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), following which if convicted, the offender might end up spending entire lifetime in jail.

Converting a June 21 HT report — on the molestation of a woman in a local train — into a public interest litigation, the Bombay high court had on June 25 suggested that the state government make molestation a non-bailable offence.

The government has set a three-month deadline to review and assess these recommendations put forth in a report tabled by justice Dharmadhikari, which will be finalised and tabled in the winter session of the assembly.

A meeting of senior officials of the home department, women and child department, and law and judiciary department was held on Monday to deliberate on the recommendations of the Dharmadhikari committee and see which of these can be implemented.

“The decision to make the offence non-bailable is under the consideration and the law and judiciary department is assessing the legal aspects. We have to make sure there is no scope of misuse,” said Medha Gadgil, principal secretary, home department.

A controversial recommendation — banning all sites that show provocative material — cannot be implemented due to weak cyber laws and the vast nature of the internet medium, a senior government official said.

September 3, 2011


Hindustan Times

Shift Kavdas, Kalyani cases to Mumbai: HC

In a move that might provide speedier justice to victims of child abuse in the Kavdas and Kalyani orphanages, in Thane and New Panvel respectively, the Bombay high court has ruled that the accused in these cases be tried in Mumbai.

The HC on Thursday transferred the shocking
cases of physical and sexual abuse of minor inmates of these two homes to the Mumbai sessions court, to ensure speedy trials.
The division bench also directed the Mumbai sessions court to record evidence in both cases using video conference.

Additional government pleader Vinay Sompal submitted that recording evidence through the audio-visual medium was necessary, as the victims were minors and were mentally challenged. He said the physical presence of the accused may hamper their testimony.

Advocate PD Dalvi, representing Surekha Karanjule, an accused in New Panvel case, took strong objection to the pleas. He contended that the cases could not be transferred to Mumbai, as the investigation was not yet complete in New Panvel case.
He also pointed out a provision of section 276 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which requires recording of evidence in presence of accused persons.
The judges however said, "We see no impediment in directing recording of evidence on audio-video electronic medium."

The court was hearing a suo motu proceeding taken up last year after newspaper reports revealed sexual abuse, physical harassment and ill treatment of inmates at the two orphanages.


Deccan Herald

97 students allege sexual abuse by school headmaster

As many as 97 girl students studying in government high school at Podhumbu have alleged sexual abuse by their headmaster Arokiasamy, 54.
• The Child Welfare Committee’s (CWC) report, a copy of which is available with Deccan Chronicle, submitted before the Madurai bench of Madras high court has listed the very many shockingly perverted acts of the headmaster against the little children.
• Madurai rural police, which registered a case in mid-July after the parents took to the streets, is yet to arrest the accused headmaster.
• Considering the gravity of the large-scale crime against children, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has taken it up while human rights organisation like People’s Watch whose executive director Henri Tiphagne is the special representative of RTE in Tamil Nadu of The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights is yet to respond.
• After visiting the village and interacting with the child victims, CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat said, “Right to Education also includes right to safe environment for girl children in schools. But a hostile environment prevails there.”
• The CWC too in its nine-page report has vindicated it. “We were shocked to hear all the 97 students narrating the sexual abuses of the headmaster during our interaction with them. The student-teacher relationship is not good in the school. The children say that many teachers are showing their hatred towards them after the incident came to light. Some of them feel that the teachers should be transferred,” the report says.
• The headmaster, according to it, has mostly sexually exploited the children of single parents and those from weaker and marginalized sections. CWC has recommended immediate legal action against the headmaster and transfer of a few teachers who refuse to handle the children with sensitivity and an office assistant.
• Its other recommendations include counselling, protection and compensation for the victims of child abuse, departmental action against those teachers who have ignored the perverted acts of the headmaster against the children, appointment of a headmistress among others.
• It has also pointed out the corporal punishment prevailing in the school, lack of toilet facilities for the students and recommended basic amenities and a compound wall. The teachers should be advised against intimidating the students about the incident.


Times Crest edition

My beta's got a beard

It's not just girls who are hitting puberty early. As the age of maturity declines in boys, eight-year-olds are reporting pubic hair and sudden erections.

Asha Bhatt was giving her six-year-old son Shaurya a bath when she noticed a few strands of armpit hair and the light fuzz on his upper lip. The homemaker whose 10-year-old son, Shivam, still had baby smooth skin, was surprised, but brushed it aside. A few months later, she started receiving complaints that Shaurya was bullying his classmates who, to Bhatt's amazement, were much shorter than him. But it was only when Shaurya returned from school one afternoon, flung his bag on a chair and screamed "Mamma" in a deep, hoarse voice, instead of the childish sing-song one, that Bhatt became convinced something was up with her little one and consulted a doctor.

Medical tests revealed that Shaurya had attained puberty early. "The age of his bones was four years older than his actual age, " says Bhatt. Shaurya was put on a monthly medication that slowed his development and the signs of maturity started fading. Shaurya, now 10, is like any other boy in his class and will soon complete the treatment. "He looks and talks like my baby again, " says Bhatt, a Shahdara resident. "But I will never forget the past four years. My husband and I were so worried, but we did not discuss the matter with anyone. It was too embarrasing. "

The Bhatts are not alone. A growing number of parents are dealing with the shock of seeing their little boys grow up too fast. According to experts, some boys are now hitting puberty at the age of 8 or 9 instead of the average 12. While this is considered 'early puberty', if the development of sexual characteristics starts before the age of 9 in boys and 8 in girls, it is called 'abnormally early or precocious' puberty. Dr IPS Kochar, a paediatric endocrinologist in Delhi, treats at least three to four boys for early puberty and one for precocious puberty every month. "Five years ago, I would see just either no boy or just one boy per month, " he says. Dr Vaman Khadilkar, a paediatric endocrinologist in Pune, treats one or two cases of early male puberty every month.

The doctors say the actual number would be higher as the condition is difficult to spot in boys. In girls, of course, breast development and menarche are clear signs. One key indication of premature puberty in boys is enlargement of the testes, but only a trained person can notice this.

While it is well documented that these days girls start menstruating earlier than theirs mothers did - a majority of girls in urban India get their first period at the age of 10 or 11 compared to the past average of 13 - a study published this month has confirmed that the age of puberty in boys has declined too. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, studied demographic data from five European countries and found that the age of sexual maturity in boys has been decreasing by 2. 5 months every decade since 1700s.

The onset of puberty is characterised by a growthspurt, pubic hair, acne and mature body odour. Boys also tend to get more aggressive and temperamental when puberty sets in. And, while some like Shaurya may start avoiding girls, the testosterone rush makes others flock to the opposite sex. Kochar treated one Class IV student who wanted to hang out only with the girls in his class. At a family wedding, this boy would keep trying to chat up the young girls around, so the parents of one girl complained to his family. "He was 8 but behaving like a 15-year-old because he was in an advanced stage of puberty, " says Kochar, who is attached to Apollo Hospital at Sarita Vihar.

In majority of cases, early puberty is 'idiopathic' or without any cause. This means the two glands in the brain - the pea-sized pituitary gland and the hypothalamus - which control hormones that trigger puberty are simply working too soon. They start releasing luteinissing hormone (LH) and folliclestimulating hormone (FSH) which lead to development of secondary sexual characteristics. However, in boys premature development could sometimes be caused by a tumour in the brain or due to disorders of the adrenal gland - it produces testosterone - so doctors first rule that out.

If there is no underlying condition, most boys do not require treatment. However, some need therapy to ensure the early development does not stunt their growth. Usually growth in height stops when puberty ends. Early puberty makes the child's bones start growing rapidly and the process stops at an earlier age than normal, so he does not achieve his full genetic height potential. If untreated, most boys with early puberty don't grow taller than 5 feet 2 inches, and girls don't grow taller than five feet, according to estimates. That's why doctors recommend an X-ray to determine the patient's bone age. "If the child's bone age is more than two years older than his real age, it means his skeleton is mature and this child is likely to remain short. So, we start treatment to prevent this, " says Khadilkar. He adds that the child is given monthly hormone injections till the correct age of puberty to suppress the release of LH and FSH. This slows down or halts further maturity and the child is able to grow taller.

Children suffering from premature puberty are also counselled as the sudden changes in their body cause a lot of stress and self-consciousness. Their beards and voices breaking often make them the butt of jokes in school, say doctors. Parents are, therefore, advised to boost their child's self esteem so the experience does not leave him scarred.

Sexologist Dr Prakash Kothari believes the declining age of puberty has made it even more important for schools to impart sex education. "The youth is getting sexually charged much earlier but there is no sexuality education in schools so they are unable to cope with the changes and channelise their impulses, " he says. "This could further increase the incidence of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and sexual crime. "

The medical community has not yet been able to ascertain the reason for the growing incidence of early puberty, but there are many theories. While some speculate that improved nutrition triggers the body to release hormones earlier, others blame environmental factors for the trend. "Buffaloes are given hormone injections to increase milk production and there is widespread spraying of chemicals on plants. These substances enter our bodies through milk and food and disturb our endocrine system, " explains Dr Kochar. While the link between hormone and chemical-laced foods and early puberty has not been proved yet, several studies have confirmed that obese children are more likely to suffer early puberty. So, the expanding waistlines of children in Indian metros could make premature puberty even more common, warn doctors.

It is also believed that exposure to sexual stimuli, through movies and advertisements, may have contributed to the speedy development of children. "Sex is everywhere around us these days. This increases sexual desires and triggers release of hormones that cause early puberty, " says Kothari.

(Some names changed on request)


Times of India

Are kids curious about sex ? Shh… its private...

MUMBAI: An increasing number of city doctors are reporting cases of pre-pubertal girls-especially those in the six- to 11-year age group-abusing themselves either on purpose or unwittingly by inserting objects into their vagina. When Anika Kapoor (8, name changed) complained of vaginal itching and a burning sensation "down there", her mother assumed it was a natural physiological problem. But in the course of a week, Anika's condition worsened and her vaginal area began emitting a foul-smelling white discharge. A visit to a gynaecologist at Kohinoor Hospital in Kurla turned the Kapoors' world upside down.

"We did an external examination and found that her hymen was not completely intact, and there were slight aberrations," said Dr Anjali Talwalkar. "A sonography revealed the presence of a foreign body in her vagina." It was a wad of paper. Initially doctors suspected abuse, but through a series of counselling sessions, they realized that she had inserted the paper into her vagina.

Anika's behaviour is not as unusual as her parents believe it to be; other doctors, too have encountered and treated such cases.

Is it sexual curiosity, the lack of communication with their parents or a reaction to sexual abuse that cause pre-pubertal girls to abuse themselves?

Most doctors put it down to curiosity, which is a natural part of growing up. Children are prone to touching themselves, and parents have to learn to deal with this behaviour in a manner that does not scare the child, say psychiatrists. According to Dr Anjali Talwalkar who treated Anika, the girl denied that she had been abused. "When I asked the mother if she was aware of any incident where her daughter had been abused, she replied in the negative. She denied being a victim of any untoward behaviour," Talwalkar said.

It was not possible to do a vaginal examination, which is done with the finger, as the vagina of girls Anika's age is very small. "We had to put the child under anaesthesia and conducted a vaginal exploration. We used a small instrument to retract the vagina and remove the foreign body," she added. During her follow-up visits, doctors tried to ask her about how the rolled up piece of paper entered her vagina. "It was during these sessions that Anika said she had put the piece of paper on the underside of her panty and that it may have entered when she pulled up the garment," said the doctor, adding that on further probing, she turned defensive and hostile.

Dr Y S Nandanwar, head of gynaecology at Sion Hospital, says that his unit performs foreign body removal surgeries in pre-teens twice a year. "We have received cases where we have had to remove small pieces of soap or a hairpin. It's hard to determine if it's accidental or intentional," he said, adding that sexuality starts from day one of a child's birth, though the child is not conscious about this. "Children may not understand what they are doing, but they may have seen or heard about."

Often, parents are uncomfortable discussing this topic. One parent at a US-based health and sex education website said that she had walked into her seven-year-old daughter's room to find her on the floor "naked from waist down" playing with her dolls. "I asked her what she was doing and she started crying. I believe she was exploring her genitalia with her dolls. I told her that it was normal, that she should only use her hands to explore and that using another object might injure her. She was quite upset and didn't want to talk about it any further," wrote the mother on the forum.

Dr Rekha Daver, head of gynaecology at JJ Hospital, said: "We occasionally get preteen girls with foul-smelling vaginal discharge. In such a case, we always find the presence of foreign bodies like small pebbles or a marble. Such a condition could have happened unintentionally while the child was playing". Dr Nikhil Datar, gynaecologist from Cooper Hospital says such cases are very rare: "It can be compared to a child putting a peanut up the nose. It's a lack of sex education that prompts such situations."


Times of India

UNICEF gets 'Meena' to protect girl child

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: With an alarming increase in child abuse cases in the state, mostly girls for domestic and commercial sexual exploitation, the UNICEF is set to launch 'Meena' a unique animated communication initiative for girl child protection in Kerala, in coordination with the state government.

"UNICEF has found this initiative exceedingly successful in other states and now plans to take it forward in KeralaWe have written to the state government about the strategy to protect the children through awareness creation and on strengthening the rescue efforts," UNICEF programme officer on child protection told TNN here on Friday. "Over the next two months, this unique initiative will be implemented in Kerala, she said. This communication campaign focusing on key issues relating to the protection of the girl child through animated stories from an image of an empowered girl child Meena.

It is a good way to create awareness on the ticklish issues among children", she says. Through story books and DVDs the campaign will be launched across the state to create awareness by holding discussions among children in a lighter vein rather than making it scary, the official said. Meena based story books are also available in Malayalam and that will be made available in the state.

A Jayakumar, social development activities in the state mission said this UNICEF communication initiative Meena, based on the consultations with the state government, will be launched through cultural and personality development programmes like interactive sessions, puppetry shows, screening animation films and reading story books for children through Balasabhas across the state. Childline Trivandrum coordinator Fr Phillip Parakkat says, the awareness campaign to protect children should be supported by strong government and social interventions to prevent the abuse and rescue of the affected children. Sexual abuse of children in Kerala is rampant both at the commercial level through trafficking of girls and at home by the protectors themselves who include their parents, siblings, friends and neighbours, he says.

"Despite being a highly literate state, Kerala is loosing its value systems with its transition from a joint family setting to a nuclear consumerist family orientation. Now family relationships are getting strained in a fast paced competitive environment, resulting in lack of quality time for the family," he says.
The unrestrained use of mobile phones, online and visual media with all kinds of pornographic materials also adds to the erosion of values. The emotional support system in the family is missing and children who are vulnerable easily fall prey, he said. Many economically poor families force the children for child labour and begging who end up as victims of all forms of abuse and torture.
While reminding of one harrowing call received from among the thousands of calls received by Childline at its toll free number 1098 from children in distress, Phillip Parakkat says, "It's painful to see a 16-year old girl who had pleaded for rescue from forced begging on streets by her parents, later changed her mind to go by her relatives wish only to find herself as a victim of sexual abuse. It was shocking to see that now the same girl who has a child wanted to sell her little one on the streets." Of the over 1000 children rescued and shifted to the various stay homes across the state, around 300 children are victims of sexual abuse. According to the statistics available with the Kerala Police, 173 child rape cases were reported from among the 698 child abuse cases reported in the state till June this year. Last year, about 208 child rape cases were reported among a total 596 child abuse cases.

"These reports are indicative of the alarming trend of child sexual abuse in Kerala, but the truth is still harsh for many go unreported," says Kerala Mahila Samakhya Society (KMSS) director Dr Seema Bhaskar.